How we started
Malvern Welcomes Syrian Refugees now includes a wide range of groups and individuals from the Malvern Community. Our organization was started in October 2014 when an appeal by Amnesty International UK arrived in the inbox of members of Malvern Hills Amnesty Group.
Local Amnesty groups were being asked to persuade their councils to accept some Syrian Refugee families under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme (SVPR). Within days of receiving the email members a meeting took place with some councillors from Malvern Hills District Council. We were confident that within the Malvern Community there was the good will and a wealth of human resources for us to extend a hand of friendship to a small number of the people seeking sanctuary from unimaginable horrors. We were not mistaken. There was an overwhelmingly positive response from members of local groups and individuals who offered their support and practical assistance. As it is important that the wider community is represented, a steering group which included members of faith groups, local charities and the business community was formed. We called ourselves Malvern Welcomes Syrian Refugees.
Initially all went smoothly. On December 2nd 2014, Malvern Hills District Council passed a motion to explore the possibility of welcoming a small number of Syrian families almost unanimously (with only one abstention). However, our request then had to be taken to Worcestershire County Council as a county-wide approach needed to be taken. In the following 12 months we encountered many obstacles. A report was commissioned which recommended that the council should not accept any refugees due to funding implications. This was very frustrating for us as we knew from the experience of our colleagues in other parts of the UK that the funding, which is provided the government is adequate.
So, we became a campaigning group. For twelve months we wrote letters to MPs, councillors and local papers. We collected signatures on a petition, engaged with the public, organized a demonstration in Malvern, attended council meetings and ran awareness-raising courses. We were growing all the time and a growing number of people joined us in these activities.
Where are we now
Finally, in January 2016, we were given the wonderful news that Worcestershire had agreed to resettle 50 Syrian refugees as soon as possible, and possibly more in future years. We are delighted that 12 families are now living in safety in Worcestershire. Currently none have been yet been resettled in Malvern due to difficulties in accessing suitable housing. The reason for this is that a minimum of 3 houses/flats is needed as a single family coming to Malvern might well feel too isolated. We are working hard to overcome this issue. Also, Malvern is seen as possibly too isolated from the point of view of work and contact with diaspora. We are continuing with our work and doing all we can to find suitable housing for families arriving in 2017 and future years. We also need to develop a wealth of expertise around available employment.